Winter is a delightful season for Terry Borkenhagen, a lifelong ice fisherman whose idea of an enjoyable time is a day spent on the frozen reaches of Random Lake
Terry Borkenhagen claims he’s no different than any of the other hardy souls who brave frigid temperatures and howling winds on frozen lakes, streams and ponds in Wisconsin during ice fishing season.
While it’s impossible to know for sure, it would be difficult to find someone more enthusiastic or knowledgeable about drilling holes in the ice and putting tip ups in the water while waiting for a fat perch or a big muskellunge to bite.
“I just do it because I’ve always done it,” Borkenhagen, 42, who lives in Random Lake, said. “I probably cast my first line on Mink Creek in Batavia with my dad when I was 5 years old.”
He’s the rare fisherman who, when he tells the story of the biggest fish he caught — a 40-inch northern pike in Canada — you believe him.
“I actually threw it back,” he said. “The head was bigger than its body. It was only like 13 pounds.”
Borkenhagen knows what kind of fish are in the local lakes and the proper technique for catching a nice lunker.
He’s just not interested in keeping fish that barely make the size limit.
“I like a perch to be at least eight inches to keep it,” Borkenhagen said. “You can go out here (to Random Lake) and catch 40 perch in an hour, but they’re small, maybe five to six inches.
“I don’t like filling up my freezer with a bunch of small fish like some people do.”
Borkenhagen, who grew up in Batavia, coaches junior varsity girl’s basketball at Random Lake High School and makes faucets at Kohler Co.
He lives with his wife Karen and dogs Phoenix and Roxy a little more than a stone’s throw away from the village’s namesake lake and often finds himself on the water when he has time to kill.
He’ll take a few jig poles, some minnows and a drill and fish for an hour or two.
“If I get a little bored at night, I’ll go out and catch a bunch of perch,” he said.
While Random Lake is known for its muskie fishing, Borkenhagen said, he likes to go to nearby Forest Lake or to Lake Ellen in Cascade, where his parents live.
“I try to get out two or three times a week, but I like staying out for eight to 10 hours at a time,” Borkenhagen said, noting he rarely brings an ice shanty. “If it’s more than, say 25 degrees, I don’t need a shanty. I’ll just sit out there and jig.”
Late winter is a difficult time of the year to fish, Borkenhagen said, noting the ice is too thick and the fish aren’t getting as much oxygen.
“The early and later parts of the season are the best,” he said. “We’re kind of in the dog days right now because the fish are slow and don’t like to bite.
“When the ice starts to melt and the water starts to seep through the ice, that’s when they get active.”
The best fishing, he said, is from 6 to 8 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m.
“You won’t catch any walleyes, bluegills, crappies from like 9 o’clock until 2 o’clock,” he said. “A lot of guys fish in the morning and then come back before supper.”
Although Borkenhagen usually fishes alone, he takes the basketball team fishing once or twice a year and will sometimes go on a trip with his friends or dad.
“We (the basketball team) went earlier this year and caught 17 northerns and bass,” he said. “The girls seemed like they had a lot of fun.”
On another trip, he and his daughter Brianna challenged his father and cousin to see how many fish they could catch.
“Brianna and I caught 50 and they caught 29,” he said. “That’s a lot of fish.”
While most people cringe at the thought of spending even a little time in the cold, it doesn’t bother Borkenhagen.
He and a group of friends went to Sturgeon Bay last week when the temperatures were below zero and the wind chill made it feel even colder.
“If I didn’t have my suit, I’d have to put four or five layers on,” Borkenhagen said. “But it keeps me nice and toasty. If you don’t spend a little extra (on the suit) and boots, you’re going to get cold pretty fast.”
There aren’t many secrets to being a good ice fisherman, according to Borkenhagen, just some hard work.
“If you really want to catch a lot of fish, you have to go out every half hour or so, check your bait and get the fish to come to you,” he said. “Some people will sit in the warm truck or shack and wonder why they don’t catch anything.
“You have to be active and change your technique to keep them interested.”